Feb 26, 2016

Park County government hit and disrupted by ‘ransomware’

A form of malicious software known as “ransomware” forced the Park County government to shut off all its computers for much of Tuesday. The shutdown disrupted the county’s business, but taking that precaution helped snuff out the virus before it could spread very far or deal any actual damage.

“Things like that happening, you just deal with them. That’s all you can do, because in today’s technology, it’s an everyday occurrence someplace,” Park County Chief Information Officer Mike Conners said Wednesday. “We’re just glad we were prepared for it.”

The ransomware apparently got onto a county computer sometime Monday night, likely through either an attachment to an email or through a visit to an infected website, Conners said.

It was discovered Tuesday morning, when a county staffer tried opening some files and was instead confronted with message saying the data had been encrypted. Pay a ransom, said the message, and the data would be made usable again.

Park County computers infected with the ransomware displayed this screen.
Conners and other IT staffers immediately went from office to office, asking them to shut down all their machines before it spread further.

“At first I didn’t know what was going on; I thought I was getting arrested,” quipped County Assessor Pat Meyer of the apparent urgency.

IT staff swept each computer before rebooting them all back up. The process lasted into the night and was generally finished up by Wednesday.

Dispatchers at the Park County Law Enforcement Center were given the highest priority, but even they had to go without their computers for about five hours on Tuesday, getting their computers back around 3:30 p.m.

“Our phones and radios never went out, so we simply went back to paper and pencil for dispatching services,” explained Park County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lance Mathess.

No emergency services were disrupted, Conners said, and “all in all, we actually turned out pretty well.”

His department’s investigation into the infection indicates it was a variant of the ransomware TeslaCrypt. The virus searches the computer it’s on — and any computers it can connect to — for files such as Word, Excel and PDF documents. It then locks them up with an effectively unbreakable layer of encryption.

This “really nasty” variant of TeslaCrypt has been created to avoid detection, Conners said.

“They even wrote the thing so it’s slow,” he said. “It doesn’t reach out and just start hammering away, they wrote it so it really slowly, methodically goes out and starts to encrypt files and it hides in all your other (computer) processes so you can’t even see (it).”

Despite being relatively slow, and only getting into a small fraction of the county’s network, the virus still managed to comb through around 67,000 different file folders and directories, Conners said. (The county’s security measures prevented the malware from actually affecting files in all of those folders.)

“It’s an intelligently written virus. And these guys are getting good at it because they’re making lots of money,” Conners said.

Criminals profit when the people or companies whose files have been encrypted pay the demanded ransom to have the files decrypted. (Authorities advise against paying up, so as not to encourage the developers.)

 “It’s an intelligently written virus. And these guys are getting good at it because they’re making lots of money,” Conners said.

While ransomware has been around for years, the FBI said in January that there’s been “a definite uptick lately in its use by cyber criminals.” The bureau has said a different version of ransomware, called CryptoWall, caused reported losses totaling more than $18 million between April 2014 and June 2015. Ransomware made national headlines earlier this month, when a Los Angeles-area hospital paid roughly $17,000 to restore access to their encrypted medical records.

Paying the demanded ransom was never a big concern for Park County, because it backs up its terabytes of data every night — and keeps back ups of the back ups, Conners said. Because the virus was caught fairly quickly, the county actually had to restore only a fairly small number of files and few files were lost, he said.

The main harm to the county was the lost time, both for IT staff and for those who had to temporarily go without their computers.

Treasurer Barb Poley said her office was put “at a standstill.”

When folks came in to renew their license plates or pay property taxes, clerks had to take their phone number and pledge to call as soon as the computers were up and running again, Poley said.

At times, “truthfully, we (were) staring at each other,” she said.

Departments generally tried to catch up on off-line projects during the lull.

County commissioners’ executive assistant, Shaunna Romero, took the opportunity to do some filing and reconsider how she does some things.

“It makes you re-think, because we are so electronic-device dependent,” she said.

Feb 25, 2016

East Newton Lake may become 'catch and release' only

The only prize East Newton Lake anglers may be taking home are bragging rights.

The only notable proposed modification to local 2017-18 Wyoming fishing regulations was revising East Newton Lake north of Cody catch and release only.

At this time, one fish can be kept per day at East Newton.

In 1999, some trout were close to 26 inches long, but the average was 20 inches, said Jason Burckhardt, Wyoming Game and Fish Department Cody region fisheries biologist. Burckhardt spoke at a public meeting Feb. 16, discussing new fishing regulations and fishing developments to a dozen members of the public.

By 2003, some trout were greater than 24 inches long in East Newton. In 2012, the average was 17 inches.

Game and Fish is not sure why the fish are smaller but, they are noting younger fish not surviving to age 7 or 8. In July and August, the water warms up, Burckhardt said. At 50 degrees, hook mortality is 5 to 10 percent.

The August water temperature never drops below 65 degrees, said Sam Hochhalter, Game and Fish Cody region fisheries supervisor.

Game and Fish is looking at the statewide July/August water warming trend and how to mitigate it, Burckhardt said.

Although it was an informal meeting with Game and Fish seeking only feedback, the group suggested closing East Newton to fishing in July and August to protect trout.

Each year, 500 Eagle Lake rainbows are stocked in East Newton. Then on every odd year, 500 brook trout are stocked in the lake and 250 browns on every even year, Burckhardt said.

East Newton is also a backup brood source for Eagle Lake rainbows, Burckhardt said.

In 2008, Game and Fish sacrificed 30 female and 30 male Eagle Lake rainbows to test for disease to prevent diseases from infecting hatcheries or waters where fish are stocked. Game and Fish always tests for disease when they collect eggs and milk for hatcheries.

The North Fork of the Shoshone River, west of Cody, offers 700 trout per mile or greater than 600 pounds of trout per mile, Burckhardt said.

The trout sample area is near Mummy Cave, running downstream to Elk Fork.

The above count makes the North Fork a blue ribbon trout stream. Downstream is a deeper blue.
The 2014 count was 2,500 trout per mile from the Buffalo Bill Dam downstream to Corbett Bridge.

There is a lot of geothermal activity beneath the Shoshone River. Hydrogen sulfide near the dam downstream past DeMaris Springs can be fatal to fish. From DeMaris downstream 2 miles there are no trout.

"Largely, there’s not a whole lot we can do about it,”  Burckhardt said.

In 2014, about 100 dead fish where found in the Shoshone River Canyon just west of Cody. Although it wasn’t verified it was assumed a hydrogen sulfide plume killed the fish, Burckhardt said.

Greater outflow from the dam dilutes the sulfide, Burckhardt said. A winter agreement with the Bureau of Reclamation who controls the dam’s output, allows up to 350 cubic feet per second (cfs) release during the winter, but that volume is dependent on how much of the states’ percentage of water is stored and the amount of water remaining in the reservoir following the water year (October to September).

This winter, the reservoir is releasing 200 cfs from the reservoir and the river is picking up another 50-60 cfs from springs along the canyon and downstream past DeMaris, Burckhardt said.

In 2006, the South Fork of the Shoshone River hosted more than 750 trout per mile. However, a 2007 thunderstorm dumped tons of mud into the South Fork of the Shoshone River and by the following year, that number was 130, Burckhardt said.

Now it is nearly 560 trout per mile. The fishing is good, but access is limited.

“This is certainly a quality fishery that is under-utilized,” Burckhardt said.

The Clarks Fork River Canyon trout population is a concern, Burckhardt said. “Clarks Fork doesn’t have a robust population.”

In 1998, there were around 600 fish or 260 pounds per mile. In 2015, it was around 420 fish or 320 pounds per mile, Burckhardt said.

White fish were abundant in the Clarks Fork, but he said he did not believe they effected trout biomass, Burckhardt said.

Luce Reservoir off Road 7RP south of Clark, is managed as a trophy fishery — catch and release only and with limited stocking. It is also backup brood stock for Fall rainbow, Burckhardt said. About 35 Fall rainbow are stocked per surface-acre annually.

Many trout don’t survive the winter in the 30-foot deep reservoir. Game and Fish is not exactly sure what is causing the loss, but they are trying to determine why. This year, the department plans to stock Firehole rainbows to see which rainbow species fare better, Burckhardt said.

Hogan Reservoir, also off Road 7RP south of Clark, was treated in 2006 to kill the suckers and chub. Now, between 1,000 to 3,400 Yellowstone cutthroats are stocked annually, Burckhardt said.

“There are six-pound cutthroat trout in Hogan,” Hochhalter said.

Upper Sunshine Reservoir, south of Meeteetse, is stocked with an average of 60,000 Yellowstone cutthroats per year, Burckhardt said.

Lower Sunshine receives 11,000 splake (brook and lake trout cross), 10,000 tiger (brown and brook trout cross) and 30,000 Yellowstone cutthroats, Burckhardt said.

Game and Fish in partnership with Cody Wild River Fest is discussing a boat ramp on the North Fork with the U.S. Forest Service, but talks are in the preliminary stages at this point, Burckhardt said.

Feb 24, 2016

U.S. House candidate Cheney calls for fewer federal regulations

Wyoming’s only U.S. House seat is up for grabs and candidate Liz Cheney stopped by Park County last week for a meet and greet at the Irma Hotel in Cody on Thursday.

While in the area, Cheney spoke with local residents about their concerns.

“I’m dedicated to earning every vote and honored to be in this race and campaign and looking forward to seeing folks across the state,” Cheney said. “We need a representative in Wyoming willing to fight for our rights as a state and the Constitution and won’t back down. I would be honored to follow Cynthia (Lummis) in that task.”

Republican Congressional candidate Liz Cheney
Cheney traces her political career back to the late 1970s when she helped her father, Dick Cheney, with his campaigns across the state.

“A lot has changed, but the important things haven’t,” Cheney said. “We expect in Wyoming to take the measure of candidates personally and I am honored to campaign that way and talk to as many voters as possible.”

In her discussions, the top concern has been the economy and “the devastation of the last eight years” from federal policies impacting the agriculture and energy industries, she said. The Affordable Care Act and its impact was also a concern among the Wyomingites she’s encountered so far, she said.

“We want to get to a place where we can grow small businesses and get access to our resources,” Cheney said. “We have the ability in Wyoming to help the nation be energy independent without government regulations — we need a representative who will go to Washington (D.C.) to fight to reverse the course.”

Namely, she pointed to “ill-advised” policies from the Environmental Protection Agency, Bureau of Land Management and the federal government taking on roles they should not be taking, she said.
She credited Wyoming’s financial woes to federal policies preventing the state from utilizing its resources.

“There is a market downturn, but you want the federal government to do everything to help the industry survive the downturn,” Cheney said, noting that the President Barack Obama’s administration is creating policies that hinder Wyoming’s industries.

She said there should be reduced regulations on mineral extraction on federal lands and the moratorium on coal leases needs to be reserved. The public also needs to be educated on fossil fuels, she said.

“I think it starts at a philosophical level to have a president who understands reliable electricity and the role oil and gas play in that, and then it is an issue of regulation,” Cheney said. “We are good stewards and shepherds of the land and need the ability to have access to those resources and should be able to do it without the expense and arbitrary rules that grew out of out of control bureaucracy.”

“We are good stewards and shepherds of the land and need the ability to have access to those resources and shouldbe able to do it without the expense and arbitrary rules that grew out of out of control bureaucracy,” Cheney said.
Federal overreach also extends into the education field, she said.

“I believe in the Constitutional separation of powers,” Cheney said, noting that it does not grant educational authority to the federal level. “Too often, authority is being taken from parents and teachers and local communities.”

She said Common Core was an example of this and needs to be repealed so that education can be looked at on a local level.

Cheney, her husband and their five children moved to Wyoming in 2012. Their children are enrolled in public schools in Wilson, which is just outside of Jackson. She recently published a book, “Exceptional: Why the World Needs a Powerful America” with her father. Their book focuses on what’s been happening in Washington, D.C. since President Barack Obama went into office. She has also recently worked as a Fox News contributor.

She said her focus is on “restoring Wyoming’s freedom and power and authority to the state” by reducing the role of the federal government in areas of agriculture and energy development.

“I can lead on these issues and represent Wyoming’s interests and make sure we turn the corner from the damage felt in the last eight years,” Cheney said. “My campaign is about the future and what we will face in January (2017). We need someone with a strong voice who can bring national attention to issues in Wyoming and to educate people about the EPA and the ability to restore our rights at a moment when our rights are under threat.”

 ~By Matt Naber

Feb 23, 2016

County may penalize electrical contractor for late fairgrounds work

Park County is mulling whether to penalize an electrical contractor for finishing a $112,000 project more than five months late.

The county could withhold some or all of the $12,260.80 it has not yet paid Action Electric for the work at the Park County Fairgrounds.

“It was a relatively small project and, to be honest with you, we’re really not happy with the way this played out,” Commission Chairman Tim French told Action Electric personnel at last week’s commission meeting.

Action Electric owner Max Griffin, of Billings, was apologetic.

“I think you have a legitimate complaint, and I think you’re absolutely right,” Griffin said.

Action Electric shuttered its Powell office after problems that included "some shoddy work" at the Park County Fairgrounds.
Under its contract with the county, the company was supposed to finish its work — which involved installing power to the new exhibit hall and bringing power to the west side of the grounds — by July 1.

However, the job still remained incomplete in November, and the county felt it was getting the run around from Action Electric’s workers in Powell. French told the fair board at that time that the county was “fed up” and considering imposing a $60,000 penalty.

The county then contacted Action Electric headquarters in Billings. Griffin said that was the first time he heard there was a real problem with the job, describing himself as “blindsided.” He said the company’s then-manager in Powell had assured him things were under control.

“This project is one of the reasons that shop (in Powell) is now closed,” Griffin said.

He said workers in the Billings office quickly traveled to the fairgrounds, found what he called “some shoddy work,” and set about fixing it.

“We didn’t take care of you. I mean, that’s the bottom line,” Griffin told commissioners. “But when we did find out about it in Billings, we tried to jump on it and make sure you had a good quality job.”

Action Electric employees substantially completed the work by mid-December, and the county agrees they ultimately did a quality job.

“You’ve done great work for us,” Commissioner Lee Livingston told Griffin.

However, the county must still decide whether to penalize the company for being so late.
Action Electric won the job in April with a last-minute low bid that edged the next-closet bidder by only about $2,800 (roughly 2.5 percent).

Commissioners wondered if other electrical shops would have submitted lower bids if not for the July 1 deadline — and the potential penalties for missing that deadline.

“When they find out that it really wasn’t done until February (when the final punchlist was completed) and we didn’t do anything about it, in theory, they’re going to say, ‘That’s not fair,’” said Commissioner Loren Grosskopf. “And especially in a small community ... that’s what we’re struggling with.”

Commissioners asked Griffin to submit a proposal on what he thinks should be done with the $12,260 retainage and he agreed to do that.

Griffin said the company would love to get full payment — “We’ve taken a butt-kicking down here pretty good (financially),” he said of this and other projects — but acknowledged “we have a very weak case.”

Commissioners will likely make a decision in April.

Feb 22, 2016

Legislature rejects tax-free rodeo tickets

A Cody lawmaker’s proposal to make rodeo tickets tax-free recently failed in the state House.

House Bill 157, sponsored by Rep. Sam Krone, R-Cody, needed a two-thirds majority vote for be introduced this budget session. Instead, more than three-quarters of the state’s representatives voted to kill the measure on Feb. 12.

Krone said on the House floor that the Cody Stampede Board has had a difficult time getting other businesses to sell Cody Nite Rodeo tickets “because they have to set up a separate system dealing particularly with those rodeo tickets and those sales.”

Tyler Waltz of Martin, Tennessee, competes during the 2015 Buffalo Bill Cody Stampede rodeo. The Legislature rejected a Cody lawmaker's proposal to make rodeo tickets tax-free. Cody News Co. file photo by Matt Naber
If the tax was gone and it wasn’t so difficult, he said more vendors could sell more tickets.

“(I)t would be a small amount that would not be received by the state, but you would have more folks staying in towns, going to rodeos, spending the night, spending their money in the communities,” Krone argued.

“Carving out exemptions to sales taxes is not a good thing,” countered Rep. Bunky Loucks, R-Casper. “Let’s let them pay the 5 percent.”

(Park County’s current sales tax rate is actually 4 percent.)

Another opponent, Rep. Mike Madden, R-Buffalo, noted the state already has 11-and-a-half pages of exemptions. Madden said he suspected rodeo enthusiasts in Cody are “happy to watch the show and they’re happy to pay their fair share of the cost of running Wyoming when they’re here.”

Forty-six lawmakers cast nay votes on the proposal, with just 13 in favor.

Reps. Dan Laursen, R-Powell, and David Northrup, R-Powell, joined Krone in voting aye. Rep. Elaine Harvey, R-Lovell, and Rep. Nathan Winters, R-Thermopolis, were among those voting no.

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